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BWW Reviews: FESTIVAL OF ORIGINALS At Theatre Southwest: A Gift For Houston Theatre

Autumn Woods, David Cleveland,
Cheryl tanner, and Malinda L. Beckham
in "Peaks And Valleys"

FESTIVAL OF ORIGINALS is an annual show designed to give playwrights the exciting opportunity to see their plays produced. The audience gets the chance to see thought-provoking, original plays that have never been done before. Producer Mimi Holloway explains: "The FOO came about 17 years ago when we were thinking what might be a good fit for Theatre Southwest to do as an annual event each summer. Melodrama was the most frequent suggestion. I thought something a bit artier would be more appropriate. It was a time when playwrights were having a truly difficult time getting anything original produced, so I thought this might be helpful to the playwrights and make for good theatre. It did."

The 17th Annual FESTIVAL OF ORIGINALS is an eclectic mix of theatre, with genres ranging from dark comedy to the existential. Some of the plays are fully fleshed-out with a clear vision and direction. "Peaks And Valleys", by playwright Jeffrey Strausser, is a sassy and tender success. His main characters, three women working in a diner, are fulfilling and dimensional, with lines that are true and zing with humor and honesty. Actors Cheryl Tanner, Malinda L. Beckham, and Autumn Woods inhabit their characters with ease and connection. David Cleveland plays a funny diner cook, and Daniel Ewetuya's character (Frank Thomas) adds an interesting climax to the play. This play was extremely well-directed by Tyrrell Woolbert.

"Rougher Stuff", by Steven Alan McGraw is a dark comedy with a gifted leading actor. Scott Holmes is utterly believable in his role, so natural and seemless that you find yourself leaning forward to watch him. Jose Luis Rivera and Aaron Echegaray give committed performances, as well. Writer Steven Alan McGraw creates characters that bounce off one another with interesting conflict and abrasiveness. McGraw has a good handle on humor; there is a line regarding Walmart that is very, very, funny.

"Last Ride Of the Iron Angels", by playwright Steve Stewart, is a Golden Girls-meets-biker-gang comedy. Some of the play works well; the characters are well-drawn and interesting together. Performances by Jada August and Sam Martinez are especially enjoyable. But there are moments when the production feels stilted and unpolished.

Playwright Raymond Fast's The Train to Tranquility is an existential play about a girl striving for inner-peace and social connection. The concept is very compelling- one actor plays the girl in her outward self (Body, played by Sydney Dunlap) and another actor (Helen Rios) plays Mind, or the girl on the inside. These two young actors do a fine job of handling vulnerability and neuroses in their roles. Patti White is likable and refreshing as the Stranger who tries to befriend the girl. This play has a ton of potential- the concept is original and keen, but the several blackouts between scenes are jarring and distracting.

A Slip from Reality, by Steven Oberman, is a story about two men who live parallel lives. Jonathan Moonen is an actor who lives the character in his body- his comedic physicality and loose-limbed grooviness add a lot to the character of Eduardo. Lance Stodghill does a spirited job of playing the reactive Ned. The two characters together create an easy platform for comedy. There are funny moments in this production, but there are times when the play feels too long.

FESTIVAL OF ORIGINALS is a brilliant idea, and hopefully one that catches on with other Houston theaters. Theatre Southwest has created a gift for emerging playwrights, actors, and, of course, audiences.

For Tickets to FESTIVAL OF ORIGINALS go to:

Photo Credit: Scott McWhirter

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